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Praytor v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

January 26, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          FRANK H. MCCARTHY United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Pamela Sue Praytor, seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying disability benefits.[1] In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) & (3), the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

         Standard of Review

         The role of the court in reviewing the decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is limited to a determination of whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the decision contains a sufficient basis to determine that the Commissioner has applied the correct legal standards. See Briggs ex rel. Briggs v. Massanari, 248 F.3d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 2001); Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017 (10th Cir. 1996); Castellano v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 26 F.3d 1027, 1028 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 993 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Even if the court would have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision stands. Hamilton v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 961 F.2d 1495 (10th Cir. 1992).


         Plaintiff was 50 years old on the alleged date of onset of disability and 51 on the date of the denial decision. Plaintiff has her associate's degree in nursing and past work experience includes medical case manager. Plaintiff claims to have become disabled as of November 1, 2014[2] due to back pain; inability to sit greater than 15 minutes; inability to stand greater than 5 minutes; arthritis; depression; and hypertension. [R. 175].

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe impairments relating to degenerative disc disease, obesity, and history of right foot pain. Plaintiff's medically determinable impairment of hypertension is non-severe. There was a lack of objective evidence to substantiate the existence of a medically determinable impairment of depression. [R. 23- 24]. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). Plaintiff can occasionally lift/carry 10 pounds; frequently lift/carry 10 pounds; stand/walk at least 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sit at least 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. Plaintiff can only occasionally climb stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. [R. 25]. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a medical case manager. Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled. The case was thus decided at step four of the five-step evaluative sequence for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (discussing five steps in detail).

         Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to: 1) properly consider the treating physician's opinion; and 2) properly consider Plaintiff's credibility.


         Opinion of Treating Physician

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to give sufficient reasons for not giving substantial weight to the opinion of Terry R. Horton, M.D. [Dkt. 15, p. 7]. A treating physician's opinion is accorded controlling weight if it is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. §§ 404.1527, 416.927. However, if the opinion is deficient in either of these respects, it is not given controlling weight. When an ALJ decides to disregard a medical report by a claimant's physician, he must set forth specific, legitimate reasons for his decision. An ALJ may reject a treating physician's opinion outright only on the basis of contradictory medical evidence and not due to his or her own credibility judgments, speculation or lay opinion. McGoffin v. Barnhart, 288 F.3d, 1248, 1252, (10th Cir. 2002). In determining what weight to give a medical opinion not given controlling weight, an ALJ must consider (1) the length of treatment and frequency of examination; (2) the nature and extent of the treatment relationship; (3) the degree the opinion is supported by medical evidence; (4) consistency between the opinion and the record; (5) whether the physician specializes in the area on which the opinion is given; and (6) any other factors to support or contradict the opinion. Watkins v. Barnhart, 350 F.3d 1297, 1301 (10th Cir. 2003).

         Dr. Horton treated Plaintiff from 2012 through 2016. On May 23, 2014, Dr. Horton completed a Medical Source Opinion of Residual Functional Capacity opining that during an 8-hour work day Plaintiff could: sit/stand/walk less than 2 hours; and frequently lift/carry 10 pounds. Findings supporting Dr. Horton's assessment were severe degenerative disc disease of lumbar spine; pain, and restricted motion. Dr. Horton noted that obesity exacerbated Plaintiff's physical condition and that she is “unable to sit more than 15 minutes without having to get up/reposition; cannot stand more than 5 minutes without increase in pain in back.” [R. 241]. On June 28, 2016, Dr. Horton completed another Medical Source Opinion of Residual Functional Capacity which contained the same functional limitations and obesity an exacerbating ...

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